KSTP Eyewitness news has just released a survey of Minnesota adults, conducted on Nov. 15 and 16, concerning President Donald Trump and the impeachment process.
To what extent can we trust the survey? It’s a survey of 600 adults with a margin of error of 5.1 percent for all adults and 5.8 percent for that subset of 444 adults who have followed the impeachment hearings – pretty large by survey standards.
That means the reported percentages may vary from the Minnesota adult population by up to 5.1 or 5.8 percent in either direction. Differences in question responses by 10.2 or 11.6 percent or higher are the findings about which we can be confident at the 95 percent level. Narrower differences are more suspect, falling below that 95 percent confidence level. Did they survey cellphones? That information is not disclosed in the polling report.
The survey has what seems a reasonable partisan balance – 28 percent GOPers and Independents and 33 percent Democrats. The regional balance also appears representative, with 61 percent of respondents from the metro area and 39 percent from Greater Minnesota.
Given all that, what patterns are most striking in the results?
Unpopular Trump. The survey asks respondents their opinion of Trump. Only 31 percent rate him favorably, one of the lowest levels of approval any Minnesota survey has revealed. The president is deep under water in urban Minnesota (29 percent approval) and the suburbs (28 percent approval but fares a bit better in rural areas (36 percent approval).
Keep in mind, however, that the question does not ask about the president’s job approval – it’s focused more on approval of Trump the person. Some Minnesotans probably dislike him personally but approve of the job he is doing and may well vote for him next November. Enough people with those views did that in 2016 to put him in the White House.
Modest interest in impeachment hearings. Forty-two percent of Minnesota adults have watched some or all of the hearings, but 26 percent have seen no media coverage, including 7 percent who didn’t know the hearings were under way. Those more attuned to the hearings are a disproportionately Democratic group. Fifty-two percent of Democrats have watched some or all of the hearings but only 40 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Independents.
The “hearings attention gap.” Those watching the hearings are much more inclined to believe enough evidence exits to support Trump’s impeachment. Forty-six percent of those who have watched all the hearings and 55 percent of those watching some of the hearings say so, but only 35 percent of adults who have not watched the hearings.
So Democrats have had some success in presenting evidence against Trump during the hearings, though that impact exists with a disproportionately Democratic audience. Note also that the hearings audience subset of the sample includes only 444 respondents, with a high error margin of 5.8 percent.
Impeach and convict. Support for these actions against Trump rests in the 40th percentiles, very much in line with broader national surveys. Forty-five percent of adults think evidence now exists meriting Trump’s impeachment and 49 percent support a Senate conviction of Trump. But the partisan divide on these items is vast. GOP support for either action rests in the single digits while Democratic support rises above 70 percent for both impeaching and convicting. Independents reside in the middle, with support for either actions in the 40s.
Grain of salt. It’s difficult to draw long-term conclusions from this survey. Much has yet to happen before Election Day 2020. There are the House floor votes, a possibly lengthy Senate trial and probable Trump acquittal by the GOP Senate.
The national media has “primed” the public to view impeachment as a top issue, but will it remain so later in 2020? By then we’ll have had the campaign, debates, and the comparative choice between Trump and an as-yet-unknown Democratic nominee. So this survey may well be a snapshot that quickly fades with time.
Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
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